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trust agents If you are anywhere near Orange County, California tonight you should make every attempt to go hear Chris Brogan speak at Disciples-related Chapman University. Chris is well known in the world of social media and blogging. I read his blog every morning, because I appreciate his short, actionable posts and his analogies. The comments are always a good read too. If you’re interested in going to hear him, you can get a ticket through EventBrite. P.S. It’s FREE!

Chris and Julien Smith just released a book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. I’m about halfway through – it’s interesting. I’m reading it with an eye toward what DisciplesWorld might learn and employ, but also with the Church, churches, and Christians in mind.

Anyone out there going? If so, come back and post your thoughts after the presentation. I’ll be watching the comment stream on Twitter (type #broganoc into the Search box to see Tweets from the event.)

Diane Butler Bass is a researcher and writer who looks at the realm of spirituality and religion.  Her work of late has partially focused of late on what constitutes and drives mainstream Christian congregations.  “ Christianity For The Rest of Us” is a fascinating book in which she examines the type of church that many of us experienced as we grew up and what currently makes for a thriving and vibrant worshipping community. 

In her research, which included both “numbers crunching” and a long series of in-depth ethnographic activities with members of different congregations, Bass identified ten elements usually present in these thriving congregations.    One of these elements is Testimony. 

Bass and her interviewees have a lot to say about this venerable and changing Christian tradition.  From the early church’s need for oral history to preserve and grow, to the Puritan practice of public statements about how God had already changed us to make us eligible for church membership and finally to the current practice of sharing our spiritual journey with others in varied places and situations, this is a well-written and interesting look at one of the components of being a Christian in a faith community that many of us are not all that comfortable with.

Testimony is on my mind today for two reasons:  1) because I am using the Bass book in an adult Christian education class right now and we just discussed this chapter, and  2)  because of what happened on facebook.com last week.

There among all the Mafia Wars, Farming, Bingo, pictures of the kids and someone’s summer vacation, and the seemingly endless polls about everything under the sun was this status update from a dear friend:

“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.”

I have no idea where this post originated because I started to see it in other people’s posts almost immediately.  In true viral fashion, I immediately copied and pasted as my status because I was struck by the simple truthfulness of the statement.  Apparently I was not being very creative because this same message started to appear from many of my connections.  Since my connections include a range that includes childhood friends, college buddies, colleagues from every job I have ever had, members and staff from all my church homes, business partners, relatives from across town and the other side of the world, along with an eclectic collection of friends from various and sundry times of my life, this was significant.  Watching a statement take hold in so many varied minds was impressive to me.

But what really got my attention was what happened next.

Variations of this message from the “loyal opposition” began to appear.  Not really unexpected, since health care reform has been such a divisive and engaging topic all summer.  Our television and computer screens have been dominated by pictures of shouting groups from all sides of the argument and the charges and counter-charges of not letting the other side speak have flown.  Elected officials have been shouted down and good citizens ignored.  The whole affair has not been characterized as “civil discourse”.

So I braced myself for more of the same in this online venue.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by what started to happen.  As you might imagine, people started responding to each other. On Facebook, when you connect to someone you know, you also become witness to their interactions with other people that they know, but you do not.  You can see some of their online conversations with their friends.  Some people find this disconcerting.  I’m a little more of a voyeur, so I don’t mind, although I always remain mindful of the public nature of what we post.

So in some cases, people were reacting to what a “friend of a friend” stated as their public testimony of their position on health care.

 However, in my corner of the virtual world, the discussions were polite, respectful, and with a definite air of “We can disagree and still remain connected.”  I was pleasantly amazed by the general air of open communication that unfolded on my computer screen.  This was not what I have come to expect.

As I pondered all this, several questions came to me.  I’ll leave them with you . . .

Can social networking media provide new ways of enabling us to provide testimony to our beliefs and our faith?

Is it possible that establishing connections before having the “hard conversations” is a key to changing how we communicate when we disagree?

Can social networking media actually support healthy discussion as well as the more-publicized ranting and raging that often characterizes the public impression of how issues are treated in online forums?

 

John

fbchurchAs many of you may know, I had the great privilege of presenting at the Church 2.0 resource group at the 2009 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  It was a great time, and I hope those that were able to attend got something out of it.  I do realize however, that there were some folks that attended who left a bit disappointed.  While I spent my time discussing how the changes happening in social media are changing the church, some people simply wanted to know how to use Facebook.  Unfortunately, in a setting like the General Assembly resource groups where everyone has a different experience level and different needs, those types of how-to discussions are nearly impossible to have.  On the other hand, the how-to’s of social media tools are certainly important.

Just yesterday, my wife brought home a back issue of The Christian Century which had a great article that begins to bridge the gap between our discussion at the General Assembly of how social media is changing church and how churches can use tools like Facebook.  In “The church on Facebook“, Lenora Rand does a great job at showing how, rather than being an advertising tool designed to draw new people into the church building, these social media tools are allowing churches to live their mission in new ways.  I won’t recap Rand’s article here, though I do suggest reading it.  What I will do is provide 3 simple ways (not techniques or strategies) for how churches might think about “being church” on social media tools like Facebook.

1. Evangelism

A church’s Facebook page can be a great evangelism tool.  Quite simply, everything that happens at the church should also be posted on the church’s Facebook page.  However, just like evangelism doesn’t end with the minister, Facebook evangelism doesn’t end with the church’s Facebook page.

fbshare2Every Facebook page, group, and event has a button that allows that information to be shared.  Those members of your church who are already using Facebook already have lots of friends that aren’t members of your church.  By simply getting church members to use that share button to share the events and happenings of the church with their friends, Facebook truly becomes social media.  As I discussed in the Chruch 2.0 resource group at General Assembly, it is the sharing that makes these websites social.  Having a Facebook page is good for a church.  Having a Facebook page where the church members share the information and content with their friends is evangelism.

2. Outreach

In any communication, listening is usually way more important than speaking.  I think the same thing can be said of church outreach.  If we as churches want to be relevant, we need to become better listeners.  Social media tools like Facebook can be great hearing aids for our churches.  When your church begins to use Facebook, concentrate more on what you as a church can learn about people, both inside of and outside of your church, than on how to attract people to come to your church.  Ask questions and listen to the answers.  As Rand’s article illustrates, find out who your church can be praying for.  You might be surprised how much more powerful it is to engage people in community rather than broadcast information AT them.

Of course, just like with evangelism, while this kind of outreach can be done through your church’s Facebook page, it is often best done through the members of your church who are already on Facebook.  A church with a Facebook page can be engaging.  A church whose members are actively engaging others is a church that is truly reaching out — whether on Facebook or not.

3. Worship

If you think that worship can only happen between 11:00 am and Noon in your church sanctuary, then Facebook and social media may not be roads your church is ready to go down.  However, if you are willing to get creative, social media tools like Facebook can provide great opportunities for your church to “be church” in radically new ways.

What if your church held an online Bible study by creating a Facebook group?  Church members could invite their friends to participate whenever it was convenient.  Some folks might not ever walk into a church building simply because they are invited, but they might just be willing to stop by a Facebook group when they have a minute and check out what their friend has been telling them about.

Consider providing short devotionals on your church’s Facebook page.  How cool would it be if different members of your church posted a short weekly or daily devotional to Facebook based on that upcoming Sunday’s lectionary text?

Be creative and try new things.  You never know what might be the thing that will provide a space for worship to someone inside or outside of your church.  After all, isn’t that what church is all about?

I completely understand the desire we all have to find a simple tool that will make the job of attracting people to our churches easier.  However, social media is not that tool….and that really shouldn’t be our goal.  The real work is not getting more bodies into our pews on Sunday morning.  The real work is connecting with God and God’s children in real and meaningful ways, and  that work of forming relationships with each other and with God is no different or easier than it has ever been.  Social media tools like Facebook don’t do the work for us, but they do give us new spaces in which to do our work.   They give us new spaces to “be church.”


will_squareWill Boyd is owner of 3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories. He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Goddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College that focused on the role of new media and social technologies in the world of sustainable marketing. Will lives in Seattle with his wife, a Disciples pastor.

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are working their way into our churches and the connections and communications that are made possible by social media changes how pastors and congregations relate and communicate.  Ministries that once relied on pen and paper (or at least the newsletter) for communication can move at the speed of the internet.  Relationships that might naturally ebb away after a pastor moves, can now be kept up in perpetuity in cyber space.  Thanks to social media, you and your eighth grade boys cabin can remain friends for life.

Friends on FacebookHow is this new connectivity changing the way pastors and congregations relate to each other?

1.  Removes the robe.  The cloak of professionalism that keeps pastors and congregants in relationships that traditionally orbit around the functions of a church building, gets shrugged off the shoulders.  The robe is a symbol that separates the sacred from the profane, the worldly from the holy and when a minister steps into the robe she steps into holy time — out of this world and into the realm of God.  However, even without the robe, some people think that the mystique of the holy still clings to their clothing and we expect to be able to glance at them, even sitting behind their desk, and see a little glistening.  Ministers are hardly people who got tired, irritated, or disappointed.  Let alone depressed, or fall in love.

In social media space, however; pastors and congregants become human to each other.  Each social media tool asks participants to answer simple questions like, “What are you doing?”  or “What is on your mind?”  If we are honest in answering these questions, then we also reveal the gamut of our humanness to each other.  Rather than keeping to the sterile politeness that files off anything that might be remotely real, we become participants in a common humanity.  We are not a pastor and a congregant, but people who clean the bathrooms because the relatives are coming, and who need coffee at 3 in the afternoon to stay awake for the next meeting.  Rather than defined by the definitions of our supposed roles, we are defined by who we are, what we do, and what we care about.

2.  Makes it easier to stay connected.  Quite simply, this is what social media was designed for — on-line tools that let humans do what humans do best — build relationships and make connections.  Churches might have invented the concept that meaningful relationships happen best in community, but we now have a tool at our fingertips that lets those relationships flourish outside of the church facility.  No longer limited to geography, social media makes it possible to create groups, on pages like Facebook, develop your own social media sites using technology like Ning and Joomla.

Although a church usually sees itself as one community, it is usually communities within a community.  There are naturally formed groups, like the youth group, and some officially designated groups, like the board or the “50 Year Members” club.  Think about your church as a series of overlapping communities, each with their own need to communicate, organize, and connect.  Social media tools makes it possible to create ways for groups within the church to stay connected.

Because of social media tools, the connectivity between a group and the church is no longer a one-way street.  Whereas communication traffic once started with the church and radiated outwards, using social media, it’s a three-way street with public transit.  Using the tools provided through social media, churches can keep up with the group, the group can keep up with each other, and the pastor can continue a relationship with both their congregation and the group, all while people from the world (depending on the social media site) hop on and off and get interested in what is going on.

Here are some of the methods I’m aware of how social media has been used in congregations:

Keep up with the graduating class as they go off to college.

Create a discussion page for youth in pastors classes about faith and their upcoming baptism.

Create groups for people who have some relationship to the church, but may not be regular worshipers.  (This could be your regional minister, colleagues, or the once a month attendees — but all have a vested interest in what is going on.)

Create your churches own social media site — where congregants can create their own profile, start forums, post events to a calendar, and notify each other of anything of interest.

Advertise special events and invite others to attend the “event” in virtual space, even if they can’t be there in person.

However, social media is changing how pastors and congregants can stay connected even after a pastor is no longer serving a church.  The protective measures we have implemented to help define boundaries: such as pastors not joining the churches they have just left or retired from — become blurred in social media where pastors and congregants can remain connected and continue a relationship even when the pastor is no longer in the same geographic location. Or, when congregants move away, they can still maintain a relationship with their pastor. Social media tools may mean that someone still has a connection to a minister through life’s transitions.

3. Changes the timing of the release of information.  A pastor posts they are working on a deficit budget and anyone who keeps up with them through social media has four additional days to stew on this piece of information before its announced to the whole congregation at the next meeting.  Or, a pastor posts that someone just came by for some pastoral care, and what might be a general statement about the reality of ministry, becomes insider information for a parishioner familiar enough with the context to fill in other details — like who might have just stopped by.  One of the hazards of social media is that it makes all conversations for everybody, and the nuances that are permitted through other manners of communication that take into account different audiences, is diminished or erased all together.

It also means, however; that events that might take a week to be released through more traditional methods of communication like the newsletter or announcements on a Sunday morning, can be shared, advertised, and invited, as soon as they are planned.  Members of a congregation who are connected through social media can create events and invite each other without the pastor needing to get involved.  And, through tools like “invite others to this event” feature on Facebook, anyone can do easy evangelism.

Pastoral Responses:  Funerals, Counseling, and Releasing Control

The flexibility of social media may send pastors or congregational leaders who like to keep their finger on  the pulse of planning into hysterics, or it may become a tool of liberation — depending on the leadership style of the individual.  However, social media tools do provide quick ways to keep in communication with those willing to use it.  A quick, “how are you doing, missed seeing you today,” no longer requires a stamp.  Or a “wow, your kids has sure grown, loved seeing the picture of you all down in Florida,” can be quick ways of continuing a pastoral relationship.

It can also be a vehicle for responding to pastoral needs, like being able to be present in moments of crisis or care that might be otherwise unavailable without the on-line relationship.  Personally speaking, I had a friend die unexpectedly, and unable to attend the funeral, I created an on-line group for “friends of” my friend to remember him.  For weeks, friends used the page to post pictures of him, comment to each other, advertise directions to the funeral, and in other ways support each other through our grief.  It became a kind of virtual grieving wall that transcended geography and brought a community of friends together.  Not a traditional funeral by any means, it was however; clearly a moment of pastoral care made possible through the tools of social media.

Using social media tools, does however, require release of control.  Your congregation may organize without you.  Your pastor may advertise an event before it gets printed in the newsletter.  You will create a page for your youth group and someone will post an unflattering picture of you drooling from underneath your sleeping bag.  But this is part of being human and being with each other in social and meaningful relationships.  And a part of becoming reengaged in community life with each other.

Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd

Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd is pastor of University Christian Church in Seattle, WA, and interested in how social media is changing church culture.


I’ve been tossing out obscure phrases like “starfish church” and “church 2.0,” more or less to keep people curious, but these actually are legitimate concepts when considering future models for organized religion.

After World War II, churches were booming, and we could hardly build or expand the worship halls fast enough to keep up. Married couples generally stayed together for a lifetime, people stayed in the same job and the same home for decades, and there was an inherent trust in institutions to care for of us.

Then things changed.

Since the sixties, our relationship with institutional structures has changed, and in many ways, has become more suspicious. From government and religion to corporate America and even the institution of marriage, we approach such systems with an increasingly critical eye.

Along with this skepticism has come a new sense of resourcefulness too. The post-boomer generations have begun to learn to create a sense of community, belonging and “place” where and when they can, unable to consistently depend on institutions, or even their families of origin, to provide the stable foundation they seek.

Enter the Digital Age, which has expanded time, space, communication and community in ways most could not have even imagined before. Though some are suspicious, or even critical, of phenomena such as Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc) tools, they are unquestionably filling a need. With more than 250 million subscribers, MySpace is one of the largest networks in the world.

The curious thing about Social Networking tools – also considered to be a part of Web 2.0 – is that they technically offer very little, if anything. Although Facebook offers users some memory space on a giant computer somewhere, and a few handy applications, the content primarily comes from the users. In the end, Facebook creates nothing except for the opportunity for community to happen.

Amazon, which is one of the biggest Web 1.0 companies, actually has an inventory of products they sell to consumers. Craigslist, on the other hand, which is a Web 2.0 system, helps to connect people who have things others want, like a giant international classified ad site. They own nothing and sell nothing to consumers, but they create a forum within which billions of dollars worth of goods and services are exchanged every year.

Historically, churches have been possessors and purveyors of information, organizing and managing the systems in a top-down structure within which the faithful can acquire what they seek. However, this “Church 1.0” model assumes a general trust in the systems in power, which continues to erode. Our instinct as church is to ratchet down, to tighten the reins as we sense the threat of our own irrelevance.

But perhaps it’s not the message we bear that’s no longer relevant, but the way we impart it. Perhaps the institutions that once represented security and authority to the culture now actually hinder our mission more than they help.

Perhaps there’s something to this whole Web 2.0 thing that we could learn from.

Such systems are not novel. From Apache tribal systems to Facebook and arguably the first-century church, so-called 2.0 systems operate with little or no budget, with little or no paid leadership, and like the early church, cannot be stopped once they catch fire.

Before Church was an institution, it was a movement. Its only purpose for existence was to spread the gospel – the good news – with a sense of urgency more powerful than fear of the risks. And like a starfish, the forces bent on dispelling them only caused them to scatter and multiply.

That is, and was, the essence of Church 2.0 – the Starfish Church. The model is right there in scripture. The children of the digital age get it, but do we?

John E. Smith, guest blogger

John E. Smith, guest blogger

Much is being written these days about the power of the Internet and Web 2.0.  Social media has become the new “place to be” and you can hardly breathe without hearing about blogs, wikis, Twittering, podcasts, and other tools of the online trade. The idea of a company without a website now seems quaint.

The ability to function in an online environment is quickly becoming a baseline competency for everyone, rather than the realm of the lucky few. You can find almost anything or anybody online, if you know how. Will Boyd’s recent NewsMuse blog posting was an excellent overview of the uses of social networking media tools.

Who knew “Google” was a verb? Who knew I could “tweet”? Who knew I would someday want to?

It’s a wonderful, brave new world out there in cyberspace . . . so why am I nervous?

I may have figured it out. While watching President Obama’s inauguration, I was keeping an eye on the update comments made by people as they watched the broadcast on the Facebook website: Obama on the left side of the computer screen and a scrolling list of online remarks on the right side, coming from computers or cell phones as events unfolded in Washington. At the height of Obama’s speech, over 4,000 comments were being made every minute. They ranged from poetic to sublime to mundane to just silly, and everything (even Aretha’s hat) was fair game.

I was “boggled” by the amount of information I was receiving. It was both fascinating and disconcerting. This was a relatively new sensation for me, so I considered why this was happening. Finally, I got it: The Internet makes it all visible.

Thousands of people having their personal reactions to an event, and I got to see it all. There was too much going on too fast to take in and react to, other than the general sense of so much thought and communication occurring instantaneously. While I got a general idea that many people were happy, I lost most of the nuances and details that I would have “caught” if I were with a few friends watching on TV.

This is the online world. There are an untold number of discussions occurring right now, complete with comments, rebuttals fair and not, on almost any subject you can name. Google a topic like “leadership” and the sites, documents, blogs, and videos pile up like grains of sand on the beach. Much of this discussion and thinking was going on before, but we could not see it, like we do now. The Net makes it all visible.

We may have tended to think that what we experience in our personal “bubbles” is what is going on. We can no longer indulge that fantasy. Life is loud, multi-faceted, and way too complex for anybody to have a complete handle on.

Hence my question: Is this visibility of human interaction created by the online world positive or negative for us?

I’m no techie, just a person trying to “muddle through.” Questions like this are important to me as the world continues to change at an accelerating pace. So I asked a form of this question on LinkedIn, a business networking site, and received numerous responses from intelligent and thoughtful people from all over the globe.

One of my favorite came from Andrew Thorn, a leadership consultant and all-around Good Guy, who said:

“I could not help but think about God as I read this question. He has the ability to hear and see everything all at once. Did you see the movie Bruce Almighty? Bruce had a hard time dealing with life because he got to experience God’s omniscient capability …. Somehow God can see and hear everything and still be present. That is an amazing thought.”

Yes, Andrew . . . an amazing thought! As I move into a world my parents could not have imagined, it’s also a comforting thought. No matter how complex our lives get, no matter what new technology or challenges come to us, God is able to cut through the noise and distractions to hear each of us, no matter how many are praying, or whether we tweet, blog, talk or just think, our messages will get through . . . all of them.

Now I feel less nervous about tackling podcasting.

John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church. He welcomes invitations to connect on both LinkedIn and Facebook (free registration on both sites is required to connect). His blog is called A Matter of Strategy and you can follow his fledgling tweets as @JohnESmith on Twitter.

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